I am a husband, father, son, brother, uncle and friend. I believe in sharing my talents and experiences by giving back to the community by giving my time to coaching, church and especially to the disability community. I truly believe that all men and women are created equally.
There seems to be another push at bringing the Special Needs Voucher program back up in the Legislature. It is my understanding that it is going to be a part of Urban Education. I am hearing that it is probably going to come up early in the session.
I am working with a group of concerned parents to help educate the public as to why this is a bad idea. We have started a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/StopSpecialNeedsVouchers). Over the next week or so, I will be reposting all of my past blogs on the subject. Here is my blog on my testimony at the introduction of the the bill.
Original Blog May 4, 2011 http://www.cudahynow.com/blogs/communityblogs/121247083.html
My name is Kevin Fech. I am here to speak to you as both the father of a 13 year old son, named Tyler, with a duel diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism and as a member of the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities
Neither I as a father nor we as a Board endorse the voucher Program for students with disabilities.
As a parent for 13 years and a Board member for 2, I have seen that parents do not always have all of the information made available to them, in a way that they can understand it, before making a decision in regards to education. I have talked to parents who liked the idea of being able to send their child to a private school, but they were not aware that they would be giving up fundamental state and federal special education rights to be able to participate in this program if they use a special needs scholarship to send their child to a private school.
Students and parents lose state and federal special education rights by enrolling in the voucher program. Among the rights lost would be the Individualized Education Plans (IEP), guarantees of progress, outcomes and least restrictive environment. Schools can make promises, but they do not have to deliver. In Florida, private schools are not included in the state accountability system. AB 110 provides no guarantee that students with disabilities will get the education they need if they attend a private school with a special needs scholarship.
Private schools do not have to use an evidence-based (or any) curriculum, do not have to make accommodations and modifications. They do not even need to employee special educators. If private schools do not have transition programs, than students will be required to finish their education in the public schools, away from peers that they have come to know and trust.
I have talked to parents who currently send their child to a private school. The school does not provide speech therapy. It is the parent’s responsibility to take the child out of the private school and transport them to the public school to receive the required therapy. How much time in a given year is this student losing when it comes to real time education because of the additional transportation requirements?
Outcomes in both Ohio and Florida’s special needs scholarship program have led to highly segregated environments. As a parent, I have seen how inclusion has benefitted not only Tyler, but fellow students and teachers as well. Tyler is accepted in his Cudahy school for who he is. Because Tyler has been included in school, most every student knows him. Tyler is so well known, that I would feel comfortable dropping him off on the playground before school and I know he would get to class on time.
Because of Tyler’s inclusion in the class room, he has learned appropriate social skills to be accepted by his class. These social skills have translated to his inclusion in his 6th grade trip to an outdoor adventure camp. At this camp, Tyler took his turn cleaning his groups table after a meal. Tyler completed a 20 foot high rope bridge obstacle course. While this made me a proud father, some of the students have come to expect this type of achievement from Tyler.
Appropriate social skills also translate into a higher potential for gainful employment, thus allowing Tyler and all special education students a better chance of being employed and becoming a contributing member of society.
Currently in the MPS, private schools only enroll 1.5% students with disabilities. This is compared to a 20% enrollment in MPS schools. With so few students with disabilities enrolled in private schools, are the private school teachers trained to properly educate individuals with disabilities?
The per-pupil cost is also an issue. Unlike Florida, Wisconsin does not fund special education on a per-pupil cost. Wisconsin funds the services, which would make calculating the voucher cost hard to calculate. It also means that every child who takes a special needs scholarship to attend private school, removes funding for the teachers, paraprofessionals and therapists which the other children with disabilities who remain in public schools so desperately need.
In addition, no 2 students are the same. Those with more severe disabilities require more services. What if the voucher calculation does not offer enough funding to fully educate the student? Do schools than not fully educate the student? Is the child rejected and sent back to the public school system?
What if there is a change in condition that requires more services over time and at a higher cost? Where does the private school get the additional funds to ensure the student is getting a quality education? If the family can not make up the financial difference, is the child rejected and sent back to the public school?
What if the voucher program does not cover the entire tuition from the beginning? Does the family need to make up the difference? Because there are no income limits to receive a scholarship under this bill, it appears to be a subsidy for middle and upper income families. Low income families can not afford additional tuition costs.
I ask that you not support AB110